I arrived at the home of an 8th grade boy, whom I had never met. I had no idea what his mother looked like or what her name was. My daughter, also an 8th grader, had texted me the address. The instructions were to show up, silently take pictures, and leave.
It was the highly anticipated 8th grade dance, and this moment was the infamous “pictures before the dance” event. It was all a very big and important deal, and by invite only. And to be honest? It was weird.
Let me tell you why.
The girls? They were all beautiful. Not that being beautiful is a problem, but I mean...they were crazy beautiful. As in, they looked like they were thirty years old beautiful. The dresses their teenage bodies were poured into were a far cry from what I wore to my 8th grade dance. Honestly? I think I wore a circus tent that my mother found on the floor, beneath the sale rack at Burlington Coat Factory. That is not even a joke. If I find a picture I will post it to prove it. But these dresses? These were adult woman, red carpet dresses. Cut low, and hemmed high, if it were not for the braces and awkwardly posed selfies, you would never guess they were just fourteen. And yes. I was the mother who brought my daughter's dress to the tailor to sew up the plunging neckline, and who had to resist the urge during picture taking to run up to my sweet and innocent girl, pull her dress down, all while praying out loud to Saint Maria Goretti.
I have two incredible daughters. One is the nose pierced, dressed in all black, insanely talented artist who is “room cleaning” challenged, did not have a date for the 8th grade dance, and who has a plan to skip college and become a successful and highly sought after tattoo artist; a dream I have come to peace with. The other is the long haired, varsity cheerleader with a boyfriend on the football team, and who keeps her room clean with a plan to get married young, become a mom, and do good work as a therapist. They are different in so many beautiful ways, but at their core, both girls are compassionate and hysterical and I am proud to say, have a personal relationship with the Lord. They have their own “friend group” and they keep busy with art, school, cheer practice, work, social activities with their peers, family time, as well as their fair share of hours in front of a screen. On the outside, they are typical and healthy girls who are doing great. But spend a little time with them, and you will quickly learn that on the inside? On the inside they feel anxious, depressed, ugly, and often very much alone.
And when I was their age, guess what? I felt that way, too. And it almost killed me. I think it is killing our daughters, too.
Does that sound too dramatic? I recognize it might. And yet, I will not edit my words. I have four children and I have watched my very own race a million miles in the wrong direction, all in the hope of fitting in. And yes. Death is a very real option if we do not catch them in time. And as I presently travel a road I pray no parent ever has to travel, I know that the truth is....many of you are already traveling it...and many more of you will. And so I feel charged to proclaim the truth of what is happening even if it hurts your ears and pierces your heart. I feel obligated to break this “kid code” that our children are living by and forcing us, as parents, to cooperate with; this “do not say anything to that parent of the kid bullying me or that teacher who treats me unfairly, or to the mom of the underage kid who is drinking because if you do, you will make life for me worse” code. Have you heard your own child say this to you? It is an incredible system our children have silently agreed to follow, leaving parents feeling helpless, and putting countless young lives in real danger.
Sisters, the truth is, our girls are slowly dying. And it starts in the Middle School.
Before sitting down to write, I threw out a question on my personal Instagram account asking young girls, “What was the hardest part of Middle School for you?” Many responses came in, and they all said the same exact thing.
One girl brought me to tears, sharing, “If you do not fit in, you are nothing, which is obviously not true, but the feeling kinda' starts in middle school.”
Another wrote, “The hardest part for me is learning to stay true to myself and not go with the popular kids.”
Both girls address the lie, and the pressure it places on them. Is it better to be popular by being someone God did not intend you to be? Is it better to fit in even if it means being someone you are not? According to the responses left in my feed, these are the serious struggles, and all too often the answer to these questions is an astonishing and most heartbreaking “yes.” Most girls will do whatever they need to do in order to fit in. I spent the majority of the day wishing I could cup these girls faces in my hands and through my own tear filled eyes tell them, “You are not nothing. You are chosen. You are beloved. Do you understand that? You are not nothing.”
My daughter's friend was over the day my own Blaze Kit arrived, and so we went through it together, like kids on Christmas morning. I pulled out the “truth vs. lie” cards and read them out loud. Everytime I read the LIE (“I need a boyfriend to be happy”) the girls would giggle then say, “Oh yeah, that IS true!” And sure, they were being silly, but even so, I had to pause and think about it. In their heads they knew these were lies. But in their hearts, they believed otherwise. Because the truth is, they are fed the lie more than they are fed the truth. And as far as I can tell by my own weekly grocery bill and the size of my children, if you want something to grow, you feed it. And so I have to wonder. In a world that will not rest at feeding our young girls lie after lie, are we doing our part? Are we feeding our girls enough truth?
I absolutely love how Lisa Brenninkmeyer opens the lessons in the Blaze Middle School Curriculum by quoting not Jesus, not the Pope, not a Saint. She quotes Taylor Swift. “Unique and different is the next generation of beautiful. You don't have to be like everybody else. In fact, I don't think you should.” Wonderfully said, Miss Swift. I believe this, and I am sure you believe this too. Now, we need to convince our girls.
On our way home from cheer practice, I shared with my daughter with her BLAZE water bottle in hand, that even though she was going into High School, the BLAZE program would be really good for her and her friends....and that maybe...I would lead them through the study. I honestly don't remember her response, which could go both ways, and if I am being honest there was the whisper in my head saying, “Good grief, Laura, you don't have time to shave your legs, how on earth will you add this to your plate?” But here is the deal. I can't lose another child to this Godless world that throws empty lie after empty lie in their faces and leads them away from Christ. I just can't. Our children are dealing with very grown-up issues and enormous feelings at an incredibly young and impressionable age. They are self-harming by cutting, vaping, underage drinking, experimenting with drugs, taking pills, being sexually active, fantasizing about suicide and going down some very dark and frightening roads, and I am telling you, more than half the time we have no idea. Not because we are not present. Not because we are bad moms. But because the world is moving too fast and we have not been given the tools to keep up. And this numbing, reckless, self medicating behavior does not begin when they are in high school, nor when they are in college, and certainly not when they turn twenty one. It starts in the Middle School. How do I know? Because I asked. And the girls told me.
I firmly believe as mothers, aunts, sisters, Godmothers, friends, and good women of faith, we are being called to step into the arena WITH our girls and fight hard for them. We need to become an undeniable presence and an unleashed force of protection in their lives that goes beyond signing up to bring snacks to the lacrosse field, or volunteering as class mom. We need to win their hearts back. We need to saturate them in truth. And we need to do it before it's too late.
BLAZE has intersected my life by nothing other than the almighty hand of God. As a mom who has been present, who did volunteer (up to a point) and who runs a home where church is non-negotiable, I have been struggling to see how I allowed one of my precious own to fall through the cracks. I have been beating myself up for not keeping my baby safe. And I have been searching for ways to ensure I am not blindsided by what is really going on with our youth ever again. What a blessing that the BLAZE program has done the bulk of the work for me. From the Middle School Girl's Curriculum Guide, to the Between You and Me Mother - Daughter Conversations devotional (my favorite!) to the 6-lesson Bible study to the Blaze Kit take-away gifts that reinforce each lesson from the Blaze Curriculum (the old catechist in me is crazy about this), BLAZE just might be the most important study in the Walking With Purpose library. I believe this. And I believe in this. And I pray you do, too.
So, where do we start? We start right now, by listening to Lisa, in her own powerful words, describe not only the importance of BLAZE, but of our crucial role in our daughter's lives. And we pass it on. We send the link to a friend, we share the videos with our girlfriends, we spread this truth like a blazing wildfire. And we purchase BLAZE. Not because I am asking you to, but because I believe God is calling us to. BLAZE is a life vest and oxygen mask - and we would be crazy not to reach for it. Sisters, these are the tools we need to save our girl's lives. Purchase BLAZE materials for your daughter, buy it for a friend's daughter, give it as a thank you to your Director of Religious Education, wrap it as a birthday gift. Just get BLAZE into someone's hands now.
My prayer is that with the help of BLAZE, God will make up for whatever I lack as a mother and fail to notice, and speak directly to my daughter's heart. I pray that one day soon, all of our girls will not only recognize but truly believe that they are not nothing but rather something; something so much greater than they can even comprehend. They are God's masterpiece, perfect in every way, and they need not ever kill themselves over trying to fit in, because the truth is, with God, they already do.
It's time we bring our girls hearts back home where they belong.
Won't you please join me?
Your Sister in Christ,
*When you purchase your BLAZE study, would you please send us an email to email@example.com and provide us with the first name of the precious girl receiving this gift? We would love to pray for her in our daily intentions!!!
At the end of my first year of BLAZE, I turned to my darling group of middle school girls and asked them what they had learned.
One girl responded and said, “In BLAZE I learned that God loves us no matter what; that no matter what we do, He will still forgive and love us.”
I nearly cried.
This truth is one which I believe to be among the central messages of BLAZE: nothing that you do can make God love you any more or any less.
I was filled with joy to hear this eighth grader reflect on her year of BLAZE by sharing this reality in her own words. She had really understood it. She heard Jesus calling her the beloved and she had come to believe a truth which will be foundational as she moves forward in her walk with the Lord.
You see, middle school is a time of self-doubt. Ask anyone to reflect upon their time in middle school and they will probably describe a detestable period of life plagued with awkwardness, bullying, rejection and uncertainty. Girls spend most of their time - whether they know it or not - grappling with their identity, figuring out what they believe, and discovering who their real friends are.
This is where BLAZE comes in.
BLAZE provides girls with the tools they need to hear who God is calling them to be over and above all of the other voices coming their way. BLAZE builds a foundation from which they can continue to grow.
And what I have been more surprised by than anything in my time working with these seventh and eighth grade girls is that middle schoolers desire to build this foundation. They are teeming with questions and thoughts and they want more than anything to ask and be heard. Every Wednesday, they look up at me with eager, attentive eyes ready to learn and respond. Sure, these girls have to attend BLAZE, but I was shocked to find out that these girls want to attend BLAZE. They want to learn about who Jesus is.
Last week, Lisa Brenninkmeyer shared a beautiful overview about what Blaze is and how the Blaze Leader's Guide can be used. But, there is so much more to BLAZE than just a Leader's Guide. BLAZE is a versatile program with a wide variety of components that can be used in nearly any context.
Here is a brief explanation of the different aspects of BLAZE which we are so unbelievably excited to share with you in August:
1. A Leader's Guide: The Blaze Leader's Guide is a twenty-lesson course designed specifically for seventh and eighth grade girls. With this book, women will have the ideal resource to lead middle school girls to a deeper relationship with Christ. Each lesson compares the lies of this world with the truth found in Scripture. As the girls are introduced to the Bible in relevant and fresh ways, they will grow in their ability to hear the voice of Jesus Christ telling them how loved and beautiful they are. They'll receive powerful tools to help them distinguish between truth and lies, and will be stronger young women as a result. This book is used in conjunction with “The BLAZE Kit,” described below, however it is not directly related to any other component of BLAZE.
2. Between You and Me: Mother-Daughter Conversations: This is a 40-day devotional for mothers and daughters to read together. Each day compares a lie of our secular culture with the truth found in Scripture. The daily reflection, opportunity to journal, discussion questions and prayer prompts will springboard the mother/daughter relationship to a new level of honesty and intimacy. If you want to share your faith with your daughter but could use some help with the words, this book is tailor made for you. The Mother-Daughter devotional can be used beautifully alongside the other components of BLAZE, but it can also be used completely on its own.
3. The Discovering My Purpose Bible Study: This six-session Bible study is designed for middle school girls. This resource opens girls' eyes to their unique purpose, gifts, and God's love. It includes the Blaze Middle School Spiritual Gifts Inventory, a fabulous tool to help girls discern where God is calling them to be world-changers. Discovering My Purpose can be used individually or in a group setting. Again, this study can be used alongside the other components of BLAZE and can also be used completely on its own.
4. The BLAZE Kit: This box of fun contains all of the supplies that you need to use the Blaze Leader's Guide curriculum. This includes, lesson-based take-home gifts, Truth vs. Lie Cards, Icebreaker supplies, packaging supplies and a Prayer Journal! Kits can be purchased for one girl or for five girls.
5. The Prayer Journal: This introduction to journaling as a form of prayer is a part of “The BLAZE Kit” but it can also be purchased a la carte on our website. This journal is a guide for middle school girls to use as they begin to learn how to pray through journaling. Each page of the Prayer Journal contains a Bible verse and the acronym, “ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.” The girls will have space to write down prayers in each of these sections. This product is wonderful for girls whether or not they are using any other component of BLAZE. Here girls will learn how to share their thoughts and feelings with God by writing out their prayers of each day.
We also have two BLAZE retreat guides on the way so stay tuned!
I have spent the past year watching Jesus use BLAZE to transform the hearts and lives of middle school girls by giving them the freedom that comes with understanding His love and grace.
I am now overjoyed to hand BLAZE over to you. It is not the answer to all of the problems plaguing young girls today, but I believe that it is an ordained tool which the Lord will use to move mountains in the lives of your daughters.
The most important thing to remember is this: BLAZE is not the Savior. We are not the Savior. You are not the Savior. And, this is good news because my friends, Jesus is the Savior!
And so, I pray that you may receive this new program with open arms, readily accepting this gift while simultaneously holding onto it loosely in an attempt to let Jesus step in to do the real work.
We hold you and your middle school girls in our hearts and we can't wait to walk alongside you during this most important season of life.
Young people are leaving the church in droves.
According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, “Between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share [of the U.S. population] fell from 78.4% to 70.6%, driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics.”(1)
Moreover, according to this study, “The unaffiliated experienced the most growth, and the share of Americans who belong to non-Christian faiths also increased.”(2)
It is time to face the truth of this reality. And, it is time to ask why.
People don't just run away from loving, open, and hospitable communities. Yet, young people are sprinting in the opposite direction of traditional Christian denominations. Why is this?
Here is my proposition; young people are running away from the Catholic church (and other mainline Protestant traditions) because the beauty of tradition has the potential to fatally reduce relationship.
And this is problematic because relationship was far more important to Jesus than tradition.
Jesus' first encounters with people (aside from the Pharisees) were relational. He walked with people before He instructed them. He loved people before He challenged them.
Yet, all too often, when we think about Jesus, we equate Him with our religious traditions and guidelines forgetting that what He wants above all is a relationship with us.
And in our attempts to be like Jesus, we can fall into the same trap. Many think that to love people well is to promote religious traditions and guidelines. Thinking that our job is to lead the people in our lives to Christ through the framework which we cling to, we often forego relationships along the way.
Have you ever walked into a church and been greeted by no one? I have. I walked in and out of the same Catholic church (by myself) for over a year without a single person around me asking my name or greeting me. And I left that church in search of a loving community.
Tradition and ritual cannot be substitutes for relationship. Relationships must always come first. Rituals only enhance the tangible experience of being loved by God and by our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We tend to put Jesus in a box. We tend to see Jesus as someone who fits perfectly into our particular religious framework. And yet, even when Jesus walked the face of the earth, He failed to fit into any religious tradition.
Sometimes He was found “in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Sometimes He was spotted breaking the sacredness of Sabbath while Pharisees responded to Him saying, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24).
Jesus was a devout Jew, yet He was frequently spotted deviating from traditional Jewish teaching. He taught in synagogues, but hung out with Samaritans. He was reportedly the “King of the Jews,” but He died for the salvation of all of humanity.
Why did he deviate so much? Why did he appear so comfortable in a multitude of religious traditions? Because Jesus was inclusive. He was relational. He saw God in everyone and loved people without necessarily forcing them to be exactly like Him.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta did this better than anyone I know.
She epitomized what it means to love people holistically . She walked with people and cared far more about relationship than conversion.
Mother Teresa cared for people in a predominantly Hindu community, and yet when asked about conversion she said, “Yes, I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, or a better Muslim, or a better Protestant, or a better Catholic…And after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do.”(3)
When I left the church, I didn't leave Jesus. When I left the church, I clung to my relationship with Jesus.
I spent some time in a beautiful, grace-filled Methodist church. I also visited an Episcopal church, a Presbyterian church, a few non-denominational churches, and I surrounded myself with an incredible Protestant community of people.
And I was struck by the fact that this community didn't care where I went to church. This community only cared about my relationship with Jesus.
This response was strikingly opposite from that of my Catholic community. They cared way more about what ritual I was partaking in than about my relationship with Jesus.
So my challenge to you today is to focus on relationships over and above religion. Young people are leaving the church in droves because we have forgotten about the good news of relationship. What might change if we took our cues from people like Jesus and Mother Teresa? If we converted people to be better followers of Christ, not better church-goers?
We are not the Savior. It is not up to us to make sure that people are going to church in the “right” place. As Mother Teresa said, “after you have found God, it is for you to do what God wants you to do.” Jesus is the only Savior. We are simply called to love one another.
Allow young people to explore their relationship with Christ. Recognize that truth and goodness exists in every Christian denomination.
The Catholic Church teaches that every baptized Christian who believes in Christ is, in a certain sense, in communion with the Catholic Church (CCC #838). So, let your young people discover Catholicism in new ways.
It was my leaving the Catholic Church that allowed me to love and appreciate the Eucharist in the way that I do today. Jesus knew that would happen when He sat next to me in every single Christian church that I tried out. But He also knew that my relationship would be forever transformed through an encounter with each of these denominations. And He knew that this transformation was necessary for me to do the work He had created me to do.
Jesus is the only Savior. He is the one walking in relationship with your wrestling young person. I pray that you would believe that today.
Grace and Peace,
P.S. Please join me on Instagram Live (Thursday at 10am EST)! I'll be talking about how it took stepping away from the Catholic Church for me to discover the unique beauty of the Eucharist. Feel free to send any questions or thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best gift I have ever received is a pair of noise cancelling headphones. At the same time, I love my family with every fiber in my being, and am anxious to know all the details of their lives-what they are afraid of, dreaming about, and busy doing. For years, I felt that those two statements were paradoxical-that for one to be accepted, the other would need to be rejected. That was before I learned the importance of solitude.
As an extrovert, I have spent the majority of my life wanting more- more conversation, more interaction, more excitement, more activity. Entering my late-forties, I have found that what I want more of is quiet-sacred space where the cacophony of voices and opinions that swirl in my head are hushed-a place where I can hear God's whisper. This often has caused me to feel guilty- that somehow this longing is a rejection of people around me. As I've processed this change in me, I have been comforted by the words of C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory, “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”(1) What an interesting thought- that without solitude and silence, we'll have trouble experiencing true friendship with people and deep communion with God. So what happens in solitude that can be so beneficial to our relationships?
It takes time alone to get to the bottom of what we are feeling and why we do what we do. When we just keep going and allow distractions to shield us from what is stirring within, we live disconnected from our hearts. This greatly increases the likelihood that we will just go through the motions in our relationships, that we will react instead of respond, and that we will make assumptions about others' motives instead of digging deeper and asking clarifying questions.
For some of us, it takes being alone to even recognize what we need. We all know the airplane rule, “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else.” I know this isn't true of everyone, but I can't figure out how to do that unless I am by myself. When someone asks me what I need, I actually have to take a few moments to be quiet, alone, to answer that question. Unless I am by myself, I am distracted by what I think the other person might need. Someone might think that makes me a constant helper and selfless, but the truth is, when I cannot figure out what I need and ask for it before I am desperate, I am prone to acting like a martyr. This has harmed my close relationships more times than I can count, and the only one who can bring change here is me.
Solitude is the place where God meets me, and He doesn't need anything. He is my hiding place (Psalm 32:7), my refuge and shield (Psalm 119:114). He holds me in a sacred space, and invites me to reflect on the thoughts running through my head. I write the emotions down, and allow it all to pour out on paper, an uninterrupted stream of consciousness. When it's all out of my system, the Holy Spirit leads me into truth (John 16:13), helping me to identify any hopelessness, lies, or exaggerations that have infiltrated my thinking.
So what gets in the way of my solitude? I could claim busyness is the culprit, and it certainly doesn't help matters. But the truth is, solitude can be painful. In his book, Making All Things New and Other Classics, Henri Nouwen wrote:
As soon as we are alone,...inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distractions manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.(2)
So that is the divine invitation-to seek out solitude, and then fill it with self-reflection in God's presence. This is the place where we will experience real spiritual growth. No one can accompany you in those hidden moments-you must be alone-but those closest to you will benefit from them.
We cannot create more time- the hours in the day are limited. But we can use the time we have far more wisely. I am challenged by Ralph Waldo Emerson's words, “Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.”
Praying for you in the quiet-
P.S. I'll be talking about my favorite sacred spaces and what I do when I'm there on the Walking with Purpose Instagram Stories (all week), Instagram Live (Thursday, April 12th at 12pm) and on Facebook Live (Friday, April 13th at 10am). Tune in if you want to hear more!
(1) C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001), 161.
(2) Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New and Other Classics (London, England: Harper Collins Religious, 2000), 29.
I always found it to be a little ridiculous that my mother gave all three of her daughters the same middle name, or a variation of it: Mary. We are Kathleen Mary, Lisa Marie, and Laura Mary. With so many names to choose from, why so many Marys?
As I prayed with today's Gospel, Matthew 28:8-15, I laughed out loud as I read the first verse. “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce the news to his disciples.” Did you catch that? The other Mary. Why so many Marys?
Growing up, I really only knew about one Mary. The Mary. Our Blessed Mother. And it was not until my reversion to my Catholic faith that I discovered the gift of all those Marys; that blessed day of brokenness when I realized that life was not about getting over my mess so I could reach fulfillment, but rather, it was about resting smack in the middle of it, and allowing Jesus - the fulfillment - to meet me there. All those Marys taught me this.
How blessed we are with this rich Catholic faith of ours, and the incredible examples of women witnesses that have journeyed this hard but beautiful life before us. Because I don't know about you, but sometimes? Sometimes my mission as a woman just doesn't feel like it is enough. Sometimes my role as woman feels a little bit “less than.” Sure, I can keep the house clean (of course, this all depends on what your definition of clean is) and I can get the kids off to school, and put in a load of laundry, and work a job, all while tending to broken pre-teen hearts, and encouraging weary souls, and praying in the quiet for my family, unceasingly. But at the end of the day, so much of what I do feels so incredibly unseen. So much of what I pour out, seems to go completely unnoticed. And so I often go to bed wondering, does anything I do truly make a difference? Does anything I give really matter?
Do you ever do this? Do you ever reduce your role as mother, sister, daughter, friend, wife, woman, to an ordinary calling with no real value? Do you ever sit back and look at your life and fear that the mission you are on as a woman just doesn't compare? That you can not possibly understand how rocking an inconsolable baby for hours, or driving your unenthusiastic child to religious education, or simply sitting and listening to your strong-willed teenager's very different view of God, will ever earn you a part in the salvation story?
Those nights I hold tight to my rosary beads and doubt there is purpose in my mission, I remember all those Marys. I close my eyes, and I place myself in their story. I sit on the edge of the bed with Mary, the angel Gabriel before us, and I learn to receive the message, to accept my Father's will, to say “yes” to the unknown. I kneel down on the ground with Mary of Bethany, at the feet of my Lord, and I learn how to sit and be quiet; I learn how to listen, how to pour out everything I have because He is all that I need. And I run away from the tomb quickly with Mary Magdalene, learning that my sins are forgiven, my Savior has risen, and that He has blessed me, a woman, with the mission to announce this glorious news to the world.
While the world's instructions for women to prove their dignity and earn their freedom and joy are shouted out loud- go out and march, hold up a sign, use whatever language you want to make your point - all those Marys teach us so differently. Of course, if the cause is in line with what God asks of us, marching and sign-holding and using your voice is perfectly acceptable and greatly encouraged (you just might want to tweak that language a bit, especially if dignity is something you are after). But why we have come to believe that a woman who sits and listens and follows God's will is passive and weak is beyond me and truly, a great tragedy. Maybe it is because we think nothing will get done if we sit still. Or maybe it is because we have waited for Jesus to show up in the past, and well, He never did. At least not in the way we expected. Or maybe we feel like all those “hidden victories” we accomplish each day count for nothing, if nobody but Jesus sees them. If that resonates with you, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Lisa Brenninkmeyer's study, Discovering Our Dignity, and opening to chapter 20, Mary of Bethany. Known as the Mary who “chose the better part,” you might be surprised to learn that there were times in her life, just like in yours, when faith did not come so easily, when Jesus did not show up in time, when the pain was too much, when life was unsettling. How often we write off the great women in the Bible as ancient and unrelatable. How often we miss the fact that these women were heroic, that these women were strong, that these women were necessary, that these women are us.
Last year I decided to use my middle name, Mary. No longer ridiculous, I now see the beautiful gift my mother gave me, naming me after all those Marys. And on this Easter Monday, it might be good for us to reflect on all these Marys. Just because we fasted for 40 days and the baskets were filled with goodies and eggs on Sunday, and we wore that Easter spring dress we bought despite the fact that there might still be snow on the ground...there is the chance that maybe we are not quite worthy of this celebration just yet. That maybe, we still have some stones in our hearts that need to be rolled away. Maybe we still have some sitting and listening to do. Maybe we have not yet poured everything out, so that we could be filled up with only Him, so that our homes permeate the sweet fragrance of a wild and boundless love. And if that is the case, that is okay. That is better than okay, actually. Because God loves us in our mess, He meets us on our way, He delights in nothing more than when we are broken at His feet.
This, I learned, from all those Marys.
Regional Area Coordinator
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/
Stories of the misuse of power and the manipulation and abuse of women sicken and anger me. I welcome the long overdue shift that is taking place in this regard. Women's collective voices have become impossible to ignore and are ushering in change. The #metoo movement has swept in, and I pray its influence will remain strong. May the long term effects be change, not just media attention.
When saying “me too” doesn't lead to action, it isn't enough. Nowhere is this more true than with spiritual growth.
We love it when someone describes how we are feeling-when they “nail it.” That desire to be understood is deep and normal. But too many of us stop at the “me too” moment, and settle for panacea fixes. We might look in the mirror and tell ourselves, “I am enough.” We join a yoga class to calm our minds. We may get to the glorious place of living authentically with a few close friends, dropping the mask and allowing our mess to be seen. But these things will only take us so far. The very best that the secular world offers will always fall short of the deep healing and wholeness that God offers us. One of the reasons that American women today are the most medicated, depressed, and addicted generation to date is because we are only willing to go so far in the journey toward wholeness.
We're told in Proverbs 24:3 that “by wisdom a house is built.” You are the house where the Holy Spirit lives, and you will be built strong and secure through wisdom. When Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:17 that we'd be given a spirit of wisdom, he was referring to the wisdom of the deep things of God.
If we're going to grow up in our faith, no longer being spiritual “infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery,” (Ephesians 4:14) then we need to acquire wisdom. This means putting in our time studying Scripture, and then applying what we've read. This requires changing ourselves, instead of waiting for our circumstances or the people around us to change.
Unquestionably, it would be easier to live the way that God asks if people treated the sensitive parts of our hearts with kid gloves. Unfortunately, certain people and circumstances set us off. We're triggered- something causes a flashback or brings a memory to mind that takes us back to the emotions of a traumatic event.
Recognizing our triggers is valuable, but not if all they do is give us an excuse to respond however we'd like. Author Martha Beck describes triggers as “our culture's get out of jail free card,” and makes the important point that “triggers explain-they don't excuse.” If we don't look at it from this perspective, we're acting like victims of our emotions. This is the response of a spiritual infant, an immature believer.
What if we changed the way we looked at triggers? What if we got smart about what was really going on? The truth is, the enemy of our soul is behind much of the hurt we experience. He has made a study of our weak and tender places, and loves to exploit our wounds. He fights dirty.
When the enemy jabs his sword into our hearts through suffering, when he hits on an old wound that we thought was long buried or a fresh one is created, he thinks he's victorious. And God, with all His goodness and power, looks at the enemy and says, “Thank you very much. What you intended to destroy in her has now allowed her to awaken to an area of her heart that I have been waiting to heal. I needed her to notice it, and now I'm waiting to see if she makes the most of this opportunity and invites me into the pain.”
And this is exactly when we most want to run. This is when we want to numb ourselves to any negative emotion or experience. But if we will resist the urge, if we will lean into the pain and name it, if we will start to explore the lies that are swirling in our heads, God will be able to reach in, speak truth, and heal.
What feels like an old wound being reopened is actually an opportunity for deeper healing-for God to do a new thing within us. Listen to His voice speaking through the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)
God is always at work. He is continuously offering us opportunities for new spiritual growth. Those opportunities often come in unwelcome packages, but if we open them up and invite God in, we'll be amazed at how we can grow.
Speaking of growth, here at WWP, we are committed to keeping things new and fresh. As we continue to celebrate our 10 year anniversary, we are launching a new website (www.walkingwithpurpose.com) and updated look. We hope you love the changes as much as we do!
God is doing something new in me, in you, and in WWP. Let's invite the Holy Spirit to usher in a new season of growth and maturity for us all!
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose
We were living on Carmine Street in New York City's West Village, just between Bleeker and Sixth Avenue, when our first baby was born. It was an incredible spot, a real diamond in the rough, that spilled out into a private courtyard surrounded by brownstone buildings, hidden from the filth and noise. We did not live in the brownstones, but our “nice sized one bedroom” (which was the size of my walk-in closet today) was the one lucky unit in our building that had access to this shared piece of paradise.
For some I hear, New York City is an assault to their senses. But for me? For my husband? It is quite possibly the only place on earth where we are able to fully breathe. And so we dealt with the rats, and we put up with the roaches, because when you truly love something you do not think twice about the sacrifice. We gave up our bedroom and gave it to the baby. We got rid of our queen-sized bed and bought ourselves a pull out couch to save on space. My husband worked odd hours as a hotel doorman in Times Square; jumping on his bicycle during breaks to go on commercial and voice-over auditions, while I strolled the baby through Washington Square park. Our life in the city was not without its challenges, as we struggled to pay rent, and dragged loads of laundry three blocks to the laundromat. But we were New Yorkers through and through and we adored our sweet home and so we stretched out that apartment and life in the city as long as we possibly could.
The hardest part of that tiny home on the corner of Bleeker and Sixth? Lifting the baby stroller over the homeless man that used my doorstep as his bed. Every afternoon I would come home to find him there, lying clear across the stoop, body pressed up against the gate. I imagine the first few times this happened I was frightened and uncomfortable by this unexpected visitor. It is unsettling to see the poorest of the poor up so close, in your face, literally blocking your way home. But over time I got used to it. The poor man no longer alarmed me, and I figured out a way to get around him. Joe's Pizza was just next door, and so every afternoon one of the pizza workers would come on out when they saw me, and as I fiddled with the lock and opened the gate, they would help carry the baby carriage over the homeless man.
In today's Gospel (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus tells us the parable of the rich man who does nothing for Lazarus, the poor man who is literally lying at his door. And it has me thinking. Not only about that homeless man sleeping on my stoop on Carmine Street, but about all of those living in poverty who I encounter, outside of my home and under my roof, and how I respond to their quiet need. Do I respond to their need? In the parable, dogs licked the sores on Lazarus while the rich man dined in purple garments and fine linen. And I suppose if that rich man lived on Carmine Street, he too, would have had the baby carriage lifted over Lazarus, so that he could quickly get inside where he was comfortable, where he did not have to look at the poorest of the poor asleep at his door.
And this is exactly the time of the Lenten season when God does this to me. And maybe to you too. He places a poor man on my doorstep. An unexpected soul in need. He forces me to stop in my tracks and pay attention and to look in the mirror and face my own poverty. And I have a choice here as to how I respond, don't I? I can continue about my business, find my way around it, and grow used to it. Or, I can choose to be like the dogs in the parable, who comforted the poor man, who showed compassion by licking his sores.
Now I will be honest. I have sat here for quite a while debating whether or not I should even say “licking his sores” because I don't know about you, but that is a hard thing for me to imagine. Picturing open sores being licked clean by dogs is not a pretty image. But maybe Lent is not supposed to be pretty. And maybe we are being called to minister to those things that make us uncomfortable, that make us want to carry ourselves over and around it, that make us want to stay in our clean bubble dressed in linen, dining on fine things. Because the bottom line is that hard things are hard to look at and hard people are hard to minister to. But isn't the hard precisely what we are called to look at? Isn't the hard precisely what we are called to do?
It is funny how we do this. How we plan out what we think we need to do for Lent, who we want to help, and how it fits into our everyday living, but how God has other plans to transform us. How we look to our forty day devotional that looks so cute on our nightstand, and our new pretty Lenten planners that photograph so well with a cup of coffee, thinking if we pour into these every day we will find what we are searching for. How we turn down that piece of chocolate or decide against that small purchase, patting ourselves on our backs thinking how good we are being. All the while, stepping over and around or taking the long route home, simply to avoid that one person who lies in our way; the one living in poverty who would settle for our scraps.
But I want to be more than a scrap giver. And I want to be the kind of woman who is alarmed by the incredible and desperate need of those living in poverty around me. And I do not have to live in an apartment in New York City to encounter the poor. The poorest of the poor are everywhere. In our communities, our churches, our streets, our bible studies, our places of work, our exercise classes, our own homes. Every single encounter, from the woman in the pew behind me at daily Mass, to the stranger in the doctor's office lobby, is another piece of my story that God has intentionally put within reach, another clue to my searching out what my heart truly desires.
Sweet friends, are we not the ones who live in poverty when we choose to look the other way? Are we not the poorest of the poor when we are so busy dining we fail to invite the hungry to our table? We are not being asked to feed everyone living in poverty, or to save the world. That is not our job. But we are being asked to not step over that one person, that one inconvenience, that one thing that makes us uncomfortable to look at. God places these very things in our path. When we ignore them, we ignore Him.
Perhaps it is a good and necessary thing when what we choose to do for Lent is interrupted by an unexpected circumstance, a disruptive person, a situation that brings you to your knees, an out of the blue illness, an intense loneliness, or a poor man lying on your doorstep. Maybe these obstacles aren't obstacles at all. Maybe they are God's presence in disguise, pulling us in closer to Him, bringing us face to face with his wounds, gifting us with the incredible opportunity to care for him. Maybe it is God saying, “Your new Lenten planner is really beautiful, but so are these sores...would you put down the planner and tend to these, please.”
May we hold loosely to our own ways of seeking the Lord these next weeks, paying attention to the poor we have grown too used to. May we minister to every single soul we encounter this Lent, especially those we wish were not left on our doorstep, especially the ones we wish we could carry ourselves over. Let's wake up to the dying in need and give more than our scraps. If the dogs can show compassion, surely we can too.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/
“They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts; He made the water flow out of the rock for them; He split the rock and the water gushed forth.” Isaiah 48:21
I'm just returning from a trip with my family that gave us countless opportunities to wait. Just when I'd be about to pray for patience, I'd rethink it, because I've often found that God answers that prayer with more opportunities to practice the virtue. The kids were great at keeping themselves amused with games, one of their favorites being “Would you rather.” Would you rather eat a fried cockroach or a snake? Would you rather pull out your eyelashes or toenails? Would you rather be sleep deprived or be desperately thirsty? You get the picture. And this is my answer: “I would rather eat macaroons in Paris, fly first class, get my nails done, and sleep under fresh sheets that smell like lavender.” Always. There isn't a time when I would rather suffer or deny myself of something pleasurable.
And here comes Lent, a season that asks me to change my perspective on what I truly prefer, deep down. Given the choice, I avoid an itinerary of dry lands, wilderness, or thick darkness. Yet in the depth of my soul, what I desire most is spiritual maturity. And in my experience, that kind of growth has always come out of the harsher landscape.
What circumstance in your life looks like a desert or a wilderness? What landscape are you looking at that appears devoid of life or hope? Which prayer have you faithfully prayed, yet the answer has not yet come? Are you still slogging through the dry land, hoping that the oasis is just around the corner, but wondering if you'll faint before you get there?
The hardest wilderness experiences for me have not actually been my own. They have been the ones that I have watched my children walk through. Pitfalls have surrounded them, fear has paralyzed me, and the reality of how little control I have has threatened to take me out at the knees. Complicating matters is the fact that I have had a plan that would fix everything, if God and all parties involved would just cooperate.
But life has a way of slipping out of our control, and this is guaranteed to happen on the road of motherhood. Recently, I have watched my child move into a place that I have spent years convinced would spell disaster. It seemed to me to be the exact opposite of the environment I had prayed for. Fear robbed me of sleep, and worry upset my stomach continuously.
Who knew what God had up His sleeve. There is not a prayer I have prayed that God has ignored. Every tear I have shed has been stored up and acknowledged. He has not been asleep on the job. What I have called the wilderness, God has decided is the perfect place to split the rock open and answer my prayers.
Is God asking you to release control over someone you love? Are you afraid that doing so will lead to suffering, slaughter or death? In these times, think about Mary and Joseph being warned that they needed to flee with baby Jesus to Egypt. We know about the slaughter of the Holy Innocents that followed, but they knew only the safety of their own country versus the unfamiliarity of the desert of Egypt. In the words of Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P., “Jesus was safer with the Egyptians than with the Jews, in a pagan land than in the country of God's people. A Christian is often safer with pagans than in the midst of loose, sensual Christians.”
If God is calling you or your loved one into the wilderness, trust that there is nowhere safer than that very place. Certain things will be put to death there, and some of those things might seem very innocent to us. We may try to justify to God why it's possible for us to keep them and still follow Him. Can we trust that He knows better? How painful the process is will have much to do with how much docility we offer the Lord.
It makes me think of C.S. Lewis' words in the book The Great Divorce. A lizard (representing the power of sin) sits on the shoulder of a ghost of a man, tormenting him with constant chatter. An angel approaches, and offers to make the lizard silent. “Of course!” the man replies. But when the angel explains that this will require killing it, and the angel's approach makes the man feel he is being burned, the man replies, "You didn't say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that."
"It's the only way," said the Angel …. "Shall I kill it?"
"Look! It's gone to sleep of its own accord. I'm sure it'll be all right now. Thanks ever so much."
"May I kill it?"
"Honestly, I don't think there's the slightest necessity for that. I'm sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. Some other day, perhaps."
"There is no other day …."
"Get back! You're burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You'd kill me if you did."
"It is not so."
"Why, you're hurting me now."
"I never said I wouldn't hurt you. I said it wouldn't kill you."(1)
Sometimes it really hurts when the rock is split open in the desert, but the refreshing, healing waters will come. This Lent, let's allow God to have His way with us. May we follow His lead, and trust that it will not be for our destruction, rather, for our glory.
With love and prayers,
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose
(1) C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (HarperCollins, 2009), pp. 106-112.
Hello, my friend!
Today I'm welcoming back one of my favorite people to the WWP blog: Laura Phelps. One of my favorite things about Laura is the way she makes me laugh. She also shares my love for Jesus and women, and I know you'll enjoy her writing. In addition to raising her four children and loving on her husband, she works for WWP as a phenomenal Regional Area Coordinator. Laura blogs for us once a month, and once a month you'll hear from me.
It took my owning three dogs to reach the conclusion that I am not a “dog person.” I have spent hundreds of dollars just so that I am not that person whose house you visit, and with one step in the door, you are greeted by a barking, jumping, out-of-control dog. And guess what? I am that person. But I am wondering now, after years of chasing unruly canines through the neighborhood, always braless in my pajamas clenching a pound of roast beef in my hand, if perhaps the reason I do not embrace this ownership is not so much because of the dog's inability to be trained, but my own inability to train it. Truth is, I might have paid for training, but I did not reinforce it.
Last week we took the plunge and bought an invisible fence. It might have been the dog's dangerous sprint across a road and through the neighbor's yard and down to the lake that encouraged us to finally do so. Also, the foaming at the mouth. Her, not me. But trust me, I was close. I cannot even explain the unspeakable anger that rises up inside of me when she runs away. The frustration that washes over me when I call her name, as she completely ignores me and runs away faster. Her defiance is a combination of total inconvenience, and absolute terror, with a healthy dose of embarrassment, because did I mention? Braless. Pajamas. Roast beef. But if you were to dig beneath the pile of negative emotions that grip me, what you'd find at the bottom of it all is…I am afraid. I am afraid for her safety. I am afraid she will not return home. I am afraid that what looks fun and exciting and completely innocent in the moment is going to ultimately be what kills her. So enter in the Invisible Fence.
Because love does this. Love builds hedges and boundaries and will even resort to shocking because life is too precious to risk losing. Love does what love has to do to protect those who do not know any better.
And I have got two words for you sweet friends. GAME CHANGER. After just two days of the dog walking into the shock, she understood, ”that space over there? It kinda' hurts.” And every time she would tap into that zap, she would take fast notice and then I would call her name and she would run back to me. And then, down on her level I would hug her, and praise her and tell her “good girl.” And I will be honest. At first, I worried that she was sad. I feared that she would never sprint and run with that same joy and exhilaration-that euphoria you could see on her furry face when she would escape. I wondered if by giving her such strict boundaries, I was cramping her style, stealing all of the fun out of being a curious dog. Would she be bored outside now that she can't explore the way she used to? Would she not love me as much because instead of allowing her to do whatever she wants, I have put in restrictions? And I questioned the safety of it all, because what if she broke out of the fence? Would she still come when called? Or would she go back to her old, wandering, undisciplined ways?
I realized that these human thoughts of mine were just that. Human. Because we do this, don't we? We see boundaries as things that keep us from the fun. We see discipline as a punishment. We see fences as things that keep the excitement out. And we want the excitement in. When we have to give things up, things we like to do and hold onto, we tend to only see the loss involved. But as I stand outside now-not only wearing a bra but dressed as well, with no lunch meat in sight-while my leashless dogs plays, I am struck by her freedom. The freedom to run, the freedom to be happy, the freedom to be what God made her to be…without the risk of getting hurt. And quite possibly the greatest beauty born out of this invisible fence is not so much that she no longer runs from me, but that she runs straight to me. Into my arms, head buried into my lap because she knows that with me she is safe. By giving her boundaries, and teaching her where she can and can't go, I see a trust and compassion that were not there before. This fence has brought us closer together and dare I say, I love her more. Dare I say, she loves me more, too.
With Lent just a couple of weeks away, it is good to think about our own invisible fences and where we might need to install them. Where have we been wandering that is not safe? What things do we run to that have the potential to hurt us or others? When God calls our name, do we keep on running away, or do we run back to Him? And I know there are people who just don't get us crazy Catholics. All of this prayer, and self-sacrifice, and giving alms and good grief, for forty days? I mean honestly, what is the point? So long as we are kind, isn't that enough? But ya know, I don't think so. I mean, my dog? She is super kind. Don't let her Chow tongue fool you. But even the kind are prone to wander. Even the kind fail to respond when they are called. Even the kind need to be reeled in from time to time.
My dog is not a sinner. Because well, she is a dog. But I am. And it took a whole lot of wandering and running away from truth to realize that I was a woman who was dying for boundaries; a daughter of Christ that was in desperate need of His protective love.
This invisible fence we call Lent is not about what God wants to keep from us. It is not about what we lose, but actually, about all that we gain. It is an incredible opportunity for us to strip ourselves of everything that keeps us from running to Him, all of those temporary things we strive for, that never satisfy. All of those fun in the moment things we do, only to find that they have left permanent scars that never fully heal. This time of preparation, if we walk through it intentionally, can be the most exciting, most beautiful journey to freedom we will ever know. But we have to allow God to train us. Not because he's a taskmaster. And not because He wants to control us. He trains us because He loves us. Do you even know how precious you are to Him, or do you doubt if He really loves you? In Lisa Brenninkmeyer's six-week Bible study, Living In The Father's Love, she writes, “The more we are rooted in a deep understanding of just how crazy God is about each one of His daughter's, the better we'll be able to wrestle with this question.” And maybe you do struggle with this. Maybe you can't trust the invisible fence works because you are uncertain of the love your Master has for you. If so, I highly encourage you to pick up this short but powerful study, and make it your Lenten promise. See how settling into the truths of the Bible and growing in the knowledge that we are so incredibly loved by our Father, is going to transform your life. Like the invisible fence was to me, I promise this study will be to you too : GAME CHANGER.
You see, God just loves you. And He puts all these supports and protections in place so that we stay close to Him. He loves us, and He wants us near. And come Easter morning, He wants nothing more than for us to rise and turn to Him with a whole heart. So let's use these weeks to prepare wisely. Let's think about those things that get in the way of Him, and tempt us to wander. And let's be grateful for the boundaries that help us to know love better; that invisible love that guides us to come to Him when we are called, to run straight into His arms, to bury our heads in His lap knowing this is the place where we are safe, this is the place where we are loved, this is the place where we are truly free.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/